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Closing arguments begin in a Trump co-defendant’s bid to oust Fani Willis from the Georgia election interference case. A major winter storm hits California. And new humpback whale photos leave the science community (and beyond) in awe. 

Here’s what to know today.

Bid to boot Fani Willis from Georgia election case nears the end

Closing arguments are set to begin today in a Donald Trump co-defendant’s high-stakes bid to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the Georgia election interference case. If Willis ends up being removed, her entire office would be disqualified as well, and a new prosecutor would have to take over the sprawling case. 

The motion to dismiss Willis from the case was brought by former Trump White House campaign staffer Michael Roman. Willis is accused of having an “improper” personal relationship with Nathan Wade, the lawyer she had appointed to be the special prosecutor in the case. She is also accused of benefiting financially from Wade’s appointment. 

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Willis and Wade have acknowledged that they’d been in a relationship but they maintain that it started after he was appointed special counsel. Read more about the Georgia case here. 

Trump’s legal issues don’t end with today’s trial in Georgia. In Florida, a federal judge overseeing the classified documents case against him is holding a key hearing as she considers pushing back the trial date. The trial is scheduled for May 20, but special counsel Jack Smith’s office suggested a trial start date in July, while Trump’s lawyers proposed a date in August. The decision by Judge Aileen Cannon will be critical in shaping the timeline for Trump’s court proceedings this year. Read more about the Florida hearing here.

Our politics team will be live-blogging both events. Visit NBCNews.com for the latest.

More Trump news: 

Major snowstorm hits California’s Sierra Nevada

Last night, the National Weather Service had stern advice for those in California’s Sierra Nevada: “Your safe travel window is over … best to hunker down where you are.” Snow has started falling in the region, where forecasters predict up to 10 feet in the mountains this weekend. Conditions are expected to get worse starting today. A blizzard warning and an avalanche warning are both in effect until Sunday morning. 

Texas wildfires latest: 

  • A second death as a result of the wildfires in the Texas Panhandle was confirmed. And yesterday, the Smokehouse Creek Fire officially became the largest in Texas history as it exceeded 1 million acres. Follow our live blog.
  • This interactive map shows how the size of the Smokehouse Creek Fire compares to where you live.

Heavy security presence at Navalny funeral

The funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is taking place in Moscow, an event seen by many as representing a struggle between the country’s marginalized protest movement and President Vladimir Putin’s will to silence it.

A heavy security presence was established ahead of the service, as hundreds of mourners gathered around the church and cemetery where Navalny will be buried in the Russian capital. Allies of the Putin critic have accused the Kremlin of trying to derail the event, saying that they struggled to secure a venue, that they were unable to find a hearse willing to carry his body, and that the morgue failed to release his body at the agreed time.

Reuters

Navalny, 47, died last month in an Arctic penal colony. His wife, other supporters and Western leaders have pointed the finger at Putin, but the Kremlin has denied the accusations. A deal to free Navalny was in the works before his death, five sources told NBC News.

Wavering Black voters aren’t happy with Biden or Trump

A focus group of Black voters in North Carolina who view both Joe Biden and Trump negatively are clearly dissatisfied with the president, but see the former president as an unacceptable choice in the 2024 election. The findings come from two focus groups produced in collaboration with Engagious, Syracuse University and Sago as part of the NBC News Deciders Focus Group series.  

“I feel like it’s a lesser of two evils,” said Candice D., a 44-year-old from Charlotte. “It’s either a politician who is making attempts to do things for the entire country, or someone who’s just about themselves or their party, their particular party and their people.” 

While the voters surveyed almost universally panned Biden as “old” and questioned his strength politically, they largely described Trump in even bleaker terms, using words such as “crazy” and “grifter.” Here’s what else voters said. 

How the war in Gaza could become a drawn-out conflict

As Gaza’s death toll tops 30,000 this week and international criticism mounts, Israeli forces believe that they are on the path to victory in their offensive against Hamas. But the Palestinian militants are still fighting and could draw Israel into a longer quagmire that resembles past conflicts, former U.S. military officers and analysts say.

Israeli officials say Hamas is under pressure, has no way to replenish its weapons and is restricted in its movements.

But Hamas’ top leaders are still alive. The group still holds more than 100 Israeli hostages. And even based on Israel’s aggressive casualty estimates, it still has 18,000 fighters left. One U.S. official said Hamas is “degraded but still capable.”

Humpback whales photographed having sex — and gay sex — for the first time 

Lyle Krannichfeld said that when he and a fellow photographer in Hawaii captured images of two humpback whales having a sexual encounter, they knew “pretty quickly that there was a scientific significance to it.” It wasn’t until Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano returned home and looked at the photographs that they realized they had captured a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

photographers captured the sexual encounter of two adult male humpback whales in the waters west of Maui, Hawaii on Jan. 19, 2022.
Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano

The photos, published this week in the journal Marine Mammal Science, are the first photographs of the species having penetrative sex, the study’s authors said. In fact, experts say it’s the first time the species has been documented exhibiting sexual activity of any kind.

Politics in Brief

Government funding: Congress sent a short-term funding bill to Biden’s desk, averting a partial government shutdown this weekend and buying lawmakers more time to fund federal agencies through September.

Immigration and the border: During a visit to the southern border in Brownsville, Texas, Biden made a direct appeal to Trump, inviting him to work together to pass an immigration bill. 

Israel-Hamas war: Biden’s team is increasingly taking extraordinary steps to minimize disruptions from pro-Palestinian protests at his events. That includes avoiding college campuses, hosting smaller events and even withholding events’ locations until he arrives at them.

McConnell’s replacement: The list of people in the mix to take Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Republican leadership spot includes three men named John — and a few non-Johns. Here’s what to know about them.

Congress: Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, who is also a Trump ally, will deliver the official GOP response to the State of the Union address next week.

Classified documents leak: Jack Teixeira, the Air National Guardsman accused of leaking classified documents on Discord, appears ready to plead guilty next week, according to a court filing.

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Staff Pick: What it’s actually like to get measles

The overall success of childhood vaccinations means that very few parents today have firsthand experience with classic childhood diseases like measles, which makes it easy to downplay them. Not only is this story a timely reminder of the suffering that even mild cases of measles cause, but it also shows how hard it is for doctors to deal with a disease they’ve hardly encountered in their training. Reporter Aria Bendix takes us into a hospital where that becomes frighteningly clear.

— Alex Hazlett, deputy platforms editor

In Case You Missed It

  • The University of Iowa’s basketball all-star Caitlin Clark announced she is entering the 2024 WNBA draft, weeks after becoming the all-time NCAA women’s scorer.
  • One person was killed and two were injured in a shooting at a dental office near San Diego. A 29-year-old suspect was taken into custody.
  • Mexico City, the most populous city in North America, is in the grips of a severe water crisis. Residents have endured weeks of shortages and local authorities have imposed rations.
  • Teens are using anti-aging products thanks to social media skincare trends — and they’re winding up at doctors’ offices.
  • Onetime “Vanderpump Rules” star Rachel Leviss filed a bombshell lawsuit against cast members Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix, alleging revenge porn.
  • Where is Kate Middleton? After she has not been seen publicly since Christmas, the internet is speculating about her whereabouts.

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